Fortified breast milk helps preemies grow
August 15th, 2011
03:02 PM ET

Fortified breast milk helps preemies grow

About one in eight babies in the U.S. are born prematurely, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Godswill Keraoru is one of those babies.

"He was so tiny," said Godswill's mother Rosemary Keraoru, who could hold him in the palm of her hand. "It was 50% chance that he was going to survive or not," she said.

Keraoru gave birth in April at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Los Angeles. She was roughly six months into her pregnancy,  and her baby weighed only 1 pound, 9 ounces. Extremely premature infants, born before 30 weeks of pregnancy, have small stomachs, and have a hard time consuming enough milk.

Keraoru's son gets breast milk that is spiked with a human breast milk fortifier. It's a kind of super milk, packed with more calories and minerals without increasing the volume The special fortifier is made by Prolacta Biosciences, based in California.

"Studies showed that these very fragile babies could benefit more from total human nutrition," said Scott Elster, president and CEO of Prolacta Biosciences.

The company's website cites several scientific papers showing the benefit of an all-human-milk diet for preemies. Prolacta is a for-profit company, and the only one in the world using donated breast milk to make its human milk fortifier. The company collects milk from at least seven established donor milk banks that provide the collection bags, coolers, dry ice and shipping for donors, but the mothers don't get any money for their milk.

Glen Snow, who operates the website www.onlythebreast.com, which  brings buyers and sellers of human breast milk together, said the women should be paid, because there's more involved in getting good breast milk.

"To produce the breast milk think about it, a mother has to eat more. She has to eat healthier, which costs more money," said Snow. "She has to have a healthier lifestyle. All these choices, these things cost money."

Prolacta says if it paid the mothers for breast milk, women may deny their own children their beneficial breast milk in order to make money. On that point, Diana West with Le Leche League International, the leading organization in support of breast feeding, agrees with Prolacta. But she says the company needs to be more upfront about its financial interests.

"This milk is being used to synthesize a product and for research from which Prolacta makes money," said West.

She wants women to be fully informed about where their donated breast milk is going.

"We strive not to be deceptive," says Prolacta's  Elster. "In fact any mom in the donation process has a consent that very clearly explains what's happening."

"I produce a lot of milk, and I don't want to pour it down the drain," says Hilary Kokenda, a mother of two who makes more milk than she needs for her baby. She donates her extra output to a breast milk bank that collects for Prolacta. Kokenda says she knows that it will be used to make a commercial product that feeds preemies.

"It's a great feeling," she says.

And mom Rosemary Keraoru, whose premature baby is thriving, is thankful and smiling. "It's working and my baby is growing."

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